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A big data approach to examining social bots on Twitter

Xia Liu (Department of Marketing, Rohrer College of Business, Rowan University, Glassboro, New Jersey, USA)

Journal of Services Marketing

ISSN: 0887-6045

Article publication date: 10 April 2019

Issue publication date: 18 September 2019




Social bots are prevalent on social media. Malicious bots can severely distort the true voices of customers. This paper aims to examine social bots in the context of big data of user-generated content. In particular, the author investigates the scope of information distortion for 24 brands across seven industries. Furthermore, the author studies the mechanisms that make social bots viral. Last, approaches to detecting and preventing malicious bots are recommended.


A Twitter data set of 29 million tweets was collected. Latent Dirichlet allocation and word cloud were used to visualize unstructured big data of textual content. Sentiment analysis was used to automatically classify 29 million tweets. A fixed-effects model was run on the final panel data.


The findings demonstrate that social bots significantly distort brand-related information across all industries and among all brands under study. Moreover, Twitter social bots are significantly more effective at spreading word of mouth. In addition, social bots use volumes and emotions as major effective mechanisms to influence and manipulate the spread of information about brands. Finally, the bot detection approaches are effective at identifying bots.

Research limitations/implications

As brand companies use social networks to monitor brand reputation and engage customers, it is critical for them to distinguish true consumer opinions from fake ones which are artificially created by social bots.


This is the first big data examination of social bots in the context of brand-related user-generated content.



Liu, X. (2019), "A big data approach to examining social bots on Twitter", Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 33 No. 4, pp. 369-379.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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